While it achieved the status as one of last year’s most persistent earworms, Wally De Backer’s searching plea Somebody That I Used To Know, featuring a snarling riposte from Kimbra, has also racked up some millions in YouTube views. For director Natasha Pincus, its success was unexpected and is still unfathomable. She may not be a household name yet, but the viral nature of the clip attests to her skill, and at SoundKILDA, the St Kilda Film Festival’s tribute to music videos, Pincus will be honoured on the big screen.
Joining her will be some of the past year’s most innovative works in the field, with clips by filmmakers for Australian bands including Miami Horror, Clare Bowditch, Children Collide and Alpine, amongst others. The tribute recognises a video clip’s ability to seal a song’s vision and captivate a worldwide audience – in which Pincus can relate to.
“It’s sort of surreal,” she says. “It’s almost like it’s happening to somebody else. I don’t think I’ve ever really got close to absorbing it – you can’t. It just seems like an aberration. I can’t conceive of the fact that 220 million people have seen my work. But certainly it’s a compliment, it’s a compliment to all of us.”
The filmmaker’s in high demand after the breakout hit charmed and then smothered international audiences. She barely has time to sleep, she laments, with new project after new project piling up. But amongst all the mayhem she recognises it’s the right time to be in the industry, a “golden age” for music videos, she thinks, because of YouTube democracy.
“I think it’s the mixture of media and being able to experience it in the best way. Before we used to experience videos passively, we’d watch Video Hits or Rage and whatever was given to us was what we had to watch.” YouTube, she says, set a precedent, driving views of clips and therefore industry standards for the pieces being created. “The audience is telling us democratically what they want by whether it’s got lots of views or not, and it’s pushed the ante up so much.”
The drawback of this, she explains, is that more time, effort and skill is required to create the pieces, many of which employ cinematic traits and special effects which have far bypassed what was expected in previous decades. “It was a pretty challenging project,” she says of Gotye’s film clip. “Things that look the most simple are often the most difficult to achieve.”
As she’s become more experienced, so too have her creations. “What I’ve found with each video is they’ve actually gotten more ambitious. Gotye was one for me to see what I could try to achieve. It was really tough because we had to mix stop-motion and live action in a way I hadn’t seen done before. We had a couple of months to make that video and it took a lot of effort, but it went bananas.”
Informed by a background in film, including developing her first feature this year, Pincus has been featured in St Kilda’s short film selection, as well as a number of past SoundKILDAs. “The sort of principles you learn in telling, when you’re writing a script they always say to you show don’t tell. It’s imagery – storytelling with images. I think the coolest thing about the music video [format] is it keeps you honest. You haven’t got dialogue to rely on, you have to communicate to your audience only in a visual way. And those film principles definitely help you do that.
“The hardest thing is to make sure that the concept is sympathetic to the song, they’re integrated into the same body. You’ll see videos sometimes where they’re overlaying the concept on top of the song, and it didn’t seem to have the idea before. That’s a real shame – there’s no emotional connection. There’s an insight that you get from a video which can help you experience a song better, which I think is what the video should do. You definitely have to try to interpret the song for the screen.”
Pincus also looks at music videos as a form of contemporary art. Alpine’s clip for Hands, for example, has been seen as controversial – with semi-nudity, writhing bodies and incongruous imagery – it’s something like a lot of video art being produced by contemporary makers. And SoundKILDA helps to place these clips on that pedestal.
Runnng alongside this event will be an industry forum, Making A Music Video. Pincus will discuss her creation of the Gotye clip and her experience in the industry – good and bad. “There’ll be an honesty about what I’ll say and some of it won’t be fun to hear, because it is really hard, there’s no money and the deadlines are sometimes obnoxious.”
But despite a certain negativity, she’s no doubt addicted to the form. “At the same time I hope people get a bit of positive inspiration as well. I think I’m the person who probably loves music videos the most. It’ll be tempered with flagrant enthusiasm about it as well, practical skills and insights, and secrets.”
As for the rest of the clips, Pincus hasn’t seen them and she’s waiting until the night, when they’ll premiere away from online streams. But she’s expecting to be inspired. “They look like a really innovative bunch of videos and they’re a good sample of what’s happening out there now,” she says.
BY BELLA ARNOTT-HOARE
SoundKILDA will be held at The Astor Theatre on Thursday May 24. Visit stkildafilmfestival.com.au for more information.